Many shows are tempted to do big finales, but the nature of the story is just too low-key for a Grand Finale.
More common is an otherwise comedic story trying its hand at a dramatic moment near the show's last episode or two, totally out of left field. This usually involves the separation of one character from the others, the realization that the isolated character was important to the group, and the co-star (and his friends) having to chase him down and get him back.
Bishoujo series seem particularly fond of this formula, even though it seems like a really obvious attempt to install pathos after having Filler pad the story.
This has been done in British shows, where a season might be six episodes, and a series might be three seasons. Blackadder Goes Forth is an especially memorable example, which is all the more remarkable since it came from a series which had played the deaths of all the characters at the end for comedy in the first two seasons.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
- Ojamajo Doremi has this as its series finale, and is pulled off quite well, considering it's Doremi herself that gets the Heroic BSoD...
- Dokidoki School Hours ends with the realization that Mika might not be teaching anymore due to marriage... though falls on its face after the meeting.
- Someday's Dreamers II: Sora is for the largest part a fairly lighthearted slice of life affair—until it is announced out of left field that Sora has a terminal heart condition, to which she succumbs after fulfilling her late father's wish.
- Excel Saga. The drama properly starts a few episodes before the finale. Of course, with the show's trademark genre-hopping, a few serious emotional episodes were to be expected.
- And then it spirals into utter insanity in the very last episode, although that one isn't actually canon.
- School Rumble Yakumo & Karasuma in particular.
- The second season of Hanaukyō Maid Tai is particularly a victim of this. The maids and slice-of-life were abruptly destroyed by ACTION, FIGHTING, and other such things in the last couple episodes.
- The Rozen Maiden anime is a huge culprit of this. After spending the majority of the show switching between lighthearted comedy and action-filled drama, Souseiseki decides to stop playing around and to win the Alice Game, but instead gets killed off by Suigintou in the process. This in turn triggers Hinaichigo's death in the following episode, clearly cementing that playtime is over in the anime, and the remaining dolls spend the final two episodes duking out in an extremely drama-filled Final Battle. And the worst part is that the ending leaves a lot of openings for another season.
- Ouran High School Host Club's anime ends this way. It's a comedic series, though a few episodes near the end had a more serious tone, but the second to last episode ends with a huge bomb being dropped on the audience (and the main characters!) and the last episode is full of drama.
- Tatsunoko's 1969-70 anime Hakushon Daimao, a very cartoony gag series, ended on a downer note with the genie being forced to leave Earth for 100 years.
- Potemayo attempts to do this by revealing the back story of Sunao's mother in the second to last episode, as well as aming it seem that Potemayo and Guchuko were dead in the final episode, although they turned out to be merely unconscious and recovered by the end of the last episode.
- Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru Does this by having Hotori write a story, and then be hit by a truck while she is reading of her failure to get the story published. While there is still some humor in this episode, it still ultimately gets played in this way.
- Dokkoida?! did this with its final two episodes. The show had been an episodic Status Quo Is God comedy, but the last two episodes were substantially more serious than the rest of the show, and included some truly epic action.
- While Fruits Basket had its serious moments, it spent most of its run as a fluffy romance. In the final storyline, Tohru falls off a cliff and is severely injured, prompting Kyo to seriously think about their relationship for the first time and admitting to himself he loves her.
- Episode 24 of Osomatsu-san sets one up, with the segment "Letter" being about almost all of the Matsuno brothers quitting their NEET lifestyle and moving out of their parents' house one by one to get jobs... except for Osomatsu himself, who stays behind and is clearly broken up about his brothers leaving. Then episode 25 completely averts this when Osomatsu gets an invitation to play a baseball game and the rest of the brothers immediately quit their jobs in order to participate, returning to the show's usual comedy. This is a Gag Series, after all.
- Sayuri Tatsuyama's Happy Happy Clover series is mostly lighthearted and fun but the series started taking a very serious tone starting in volume 4 and especially volume 5. The fifth volumes stories while still lighthearted start getting more serious until the grand finale where Rambler is trying to save the forest animals from an oncoming forest fire and Clover sacrifices her life to prevent the fire. She gets better though.
- 881(Papaya). A comedy film ends with one of the main characters (Who is terminally ill) succumbing to her disease.
- The final episode of Seinfeld subverts this. The plane malfunctioning with the main cast in it certainly sounds like this trope, but it lasts for all of a minute (with the characters continuing to say funny things, even) before going right back to the show's usual pure comedy.
- Coupling does a slightly different version of this. It's not a death, but a birth, the culmination of the pregnancy that's formed the basis for a lot of the comedy in the fourth and final series. But the final few minutes are played completely serious.
- Subverted on Everybody Loves Raymond. A doctor announces that they are having trouble resuscitating Raymond after a very minor surgery, but seconds later he is completely fine. Debra then made everyone swear not to let Raymond's mother know about the near-death experience, since it would bring out the worst in her motherly overprotectiveness. The episode did have a little more emotion than usual, but otherwise it had the same tone as any other episode of the series.
- Dinosaurs. It's a comedy series about dinosaurs that suddenly ends with a Green Aesop in which they all go extinct.
- Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (otherwise not a low-key show) went along somewhat slowly. Then Willow went insane in the last four episodes.
- Most of the light hearted Super Sentai series, such as Go-onger, follow this trope. The darker ones, however, (such as Changeman or Liveman) are serious already so the finale episodes generally are of the same tone as the rest of the series.
- Power Rangers Turbo does this. all of the Rangers' weapons are destroyed, Zordon is captured, the Command Center is stormed and destroyed, and Divatox is moments from laying waste to Earth before she is called off by Bigger Bad Dark Spector. Justin stays behind while the four remaining Rangers, depowered, go into outer space on a possible suicide mission.
- Lexx, which had for the most part had been humor of the WTF variety, turned quite dramatic in the final episode, most notably the death of the Lexx, Kai's return to life only to die, and the destruction of Earth. (Although to be fair, some of the show's subplots and backstories were kind of tragic to begin with.)
- The destruction of Earth was actually a very clever part of it; Lexx being the show it is, very few viewers doubted that it would happen as soon as it was shown on-screen, but as season four progresses, it seems to become increasingly unlikely, to the point where the audience is seriously questioning whether or not it will happen with many close-calls ultimately prevented by the crew instead of caused by them like usual. The finale seems to take this further, with the crew trying to save it from a different threat until 790 pulls the trigger. By the time it finally happens, the audience has essentially been fooled into thinking Like You Would Really Do It applies, and it's genuinely dramatic instead of a gag like it's been for the entire rest of the show.
- Every season of The Big Bang Theory ends with a Drama Bomb Finale.
- The last episode of the fifth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm ends with Larry's death. It doesn't last, though.
- Red Dwarf ended Series 6 with "Out of Time", a typical funny episode. However, they are attacked by their evil corrupt future selves right at the end (literally within the last 3 minutes), and one by one fall, until only Rimmer is left to do a Last Stand, and it ends on a cliffhanger.
- Downton Abbey appears to be making this officially a thing. The first series ended with the announcement of World War 1; the second series ended with the arrest of Bates on the charge of murdering his obnoxious wife. The war itself was pretty anti-climactic and had little serious impact on the family that wasn't somehow reversed. The third looks like it's going to avoid it, with Mary and Matthew blissfully welcoming their son, until Matthew dies in a car crash in the final moments.
- Blackadder finished with everybody dying in series one, two, and four. The fourth, which until then had used life in the trenches for Black Comedy, did not play this for laughs. The over-patriotic George suddenly realizes "I don't want to die", Baldrick asks why they can't just go home, and Blackadder's desk-jockey rival is horrified to learn General Melchett's sending him to the front so he won't miss the fun.
- Charmed: While Season 3 was certainly the most intense season by that point, the season's major story-arcs had all but wrapped up (Cole and Phoebe being the sole exception) and the last few episodes had been meandering towards the end, when suddenly magic is exposed, Piper is shot dead, time is reversed, Phoebe and Leo are trapped in the underworld and Piper and Prue are stuck on the surface, grievously injured and without a healer. Cut to credits.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine is generally a low-stakes comedy, but the first four season finales all end on more dramatic notes.
- Season one: Jake leaves on an undercover mission, and the risk this presents prompts him to finally admit his feelings to Amy. His undercover status is resolved fairly quickly the next season.
- Season two: Wuntch manages to get Holt transferred. This one takes a few episodes of season three to resolve.
- Season three: Jimmy "The Butcher" Figgis threatens the lives of Jake and Holt, forcing them to go into witness protection in Florida.
- Season four: Jake and Rosa are framed for bank robbery and *convicted*.
- Averted come season five, which ends with Jake and Amy tying the knot. The sole cliffhanger is whether or not Holt got the Commissioner position.
- Parodied on an episode of World's Dumbest...: Judy Gold imagines a sitcom about a woman and her pig (which were the focus of a segment), which would end with the pig falling in love and the woman making a bacon sandwich and crying while eating it before a fade to black.
- The Visual Novel Heart de Roommate is for the most a fluffy slice of life comedy with the odd burst of drama for flavour, generally kept upbeat even through the more serious second half of the game by the cheerful, quirky characters. Then you get to the downright dark finale, featuring an honestly suicidal new character with a very dark backstory and a nasty Non-Standard Game Over for the incautious. The epilogue on the other hand is a straight Bittersweet Ending, actually made all the more effective by the previous happiness.
- EarthBound spends most of the game being a quirky, silly, absurdist take on RPGs with a generally idealistic tone, but in the final area of the game, the game drops all humour, transfers the party's conciousnesses into robots, and sends you into a cavern in the past to destroy a monster before it can destroy the world.
- Sonic Heroes looks and plays rather light-hearted at first, especially considering what came before it, but things slowly go to hell as the main villain (who is not Eggman, for a change) reveals himself.
- The season finales of the Sam & Max: Freelance Police games tend to be somewhat Darker and Edgier than the rest of the episodes, like Hugh Bliss putting Sam through magic-themed torture devices as Max watches in Season One or Sam & Max having to visit Hell and stop Armageddon in Season Two or Max becoming an Eldritch Abomination and being Killed Off for Real in Season Three.
- The first installment of Wasted Youth is basically Bully as a Flash Game with absurd situations, crude humor, and outlandish characters. Then after the main plot wraps up in rather shaggy fashion, you discover the missing girl's corpse buried in a shallow grave on the sports field. Cue Cliffhanger, credits, and some major Mood Whiplash.
- In Magic Pengel, everything leading up to the Kingdom finals is either happy, or, at the very least, sad in the way one would expect from a kid-friendly JRPG. Once the finals hit, however, the game becomes extremely dark, especially considering its target audience.
- Hatoful Boyfriend does this twice. The first game is mostly an extremely silly dating sim involving birds, then you unlock the "Bad Boys' Love" route which opens with the dismemberment of the former protagonist and ends with an attempted genocide. Then comes the sequel, which is two silly, light-hearted chapters, one rather surreal chapter, and then the entire cast being imprisoned in the afterlife and nearly forced into an Assimilation Plot by the vengeful spirit of a bird murdered by one of the love interests.
- Mystic Messenger is generally a light-hearted game that still has humorous moments and dialogue even when things start getting more serious at the end of a character's route. The secret endings that resolve all the game's plot threads and mysteries, however, are 100% heavy drama featuring an abusive relationship, a character being Killed Off for Real, and a Brainwashed and Crazy character attempting to strangle his brother.
- The last act of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has aspects of this, but it didn't come out of nowhere; the setup for the sudden attack of tragedy had clearly been building since the beginning. However, it was significantly aided by the usual(ly) Joss Whedon cruelty.
- The infamous YouTube channel "Behind the Meme" ended with Something Completely Different. Instead of the usual meme description, it is a five part video of the creator falling into depression and committing suicide (the last episode was taken down and replaced with one that narrates what happened over innocent stock footage, though the original video was reuploaded elsewhere on YouTube). A postscript video was later released explaining that the finale videos were a dramatization of how he felt, and that he wants his subsequent videos to move in a different direction than covering memes.
- The finale of Ed, Edd n Eddy has one of Eddy's scams backfire and seriously injure the neighborhood kids to the point the kids seek to kill the Eds, regardless of legal or holy consequences. It also shows Eddy's older brother routinely abusing him, and the movie ends with the Eds finally being accepted by the other kids, with no Snap Back or Reset Button or anything.